SBJ/Sept. 1-7, 2014/In Depth

Research: London games benefit fan development

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Following the eight NFL games played in London since 2007, the league is set to stage three more regular-season games in Wembley Stadium this year. NFL leaders have been open about ambitions to grow the business beyond the U.S., and the London investment appears to be paying dividends.

Findings from a recent online research project conducted for SportsBusiness Journal revealed that the NFL International Series games have fueled interest in the league and TV viewership among supporters of the sport in London. Six in 10 NFL fans in the London area indicated that their interest in the NFL has grown since the NFL began scheduling games there and roughly half admit to watching more games on TV.


Fans are drawn to the complete package the NFL delivers. Between 25 percent and 46 percent of fans found each of six tested features of an NFL game “very appealing” and a strong majority found all tested elements at least “somewhat appealing.” The on-field competition (46 percent “very appealing”), game strategy (45 percent) and the physical nature of the game (41 percent) were most appealing to NFL fans in London. Meanwhile, player personalities (25 percent) placed last on this list — likely explained by the low familiarity with NFL athletes.

NFL fans in London display a genuine appetite for live game action — 70 percent of respondents indicated they would likely or definitely attend a game in Wembley in the next two years if the league continues to schedule them.
Most of those who will definitely attend have already experienced an NFL game in Wembley — a sign that these events are not just a hip novelty in the European capital but an experience generating repeat customers. Overall, roughly one-third of respondents indicated they have attended at least one of the International Series games.

Regardless of the positive indicators, developing a loyal NFL fan base in London will surely be a process and teaching fans the NFL rules will be a primary challenge to overcome. Three out of 10 local fans of the sport conceded they know very few NFL rules and only 27 percent felt they know all or most rules of the game. In July 2014, 28 percent of the NFL supporters in London surveyed for the study qualified as avid fans by Scarborough fan base definitions. To compare, avid fans make up close to half of the NFL’s fan base in the U.S. (Scarborough).
Currently, the UEFA Champions League and the Barclays Premier League have substantially more avid fans than the NFL even within the segment of local NFL fans — hardly a surprise.

The study broadly addressed the concept of a permanent NFL franchise in London. When given an option, local NFL fans tend to prefer that the NFL place a team in London as opposed to increase the number of games played there by different teams (54 percent vs. 46 percent). If an NFL franchise were to begin play in London, meaningful segments of local NFL fans pledge their support in the form of TV viewership and ticket purchases, including season-ticket plan considerations.

London is home to many expats and a convenient destination for many consumers with U.S. ties. Currently, these constitute the bigger slice of London’s NFL fans — 24 percent have lived in, and another 46 percent have visited, the U.S. in the past. While the increased interest, viewership and intent to attend figures as a result of the London games were evident across all respondent groups, the magnitude of the increase was more pronounced among fans with U.S. connections or exposure. The growing number of games scheduled in Wembley no doubt will bring a larger share of mind for the NFL in the U.K. More importantly, it will allow new fans to sample the NFL experience and learn to carve out a few hours of their Sundays for the NFL.

Conversations around a potential NFL franchise in London are typically dominated by concerns about logistics. The bigger factor for an eastward expansion is confidence among keepers of the NFL brand that knowledgeable and devoted fans will be lining up for the league’s second coming.

Nikolay Panchev is vice president of research at Turnkey Intelligence. The NFL and more than half of its clubs utilize Turnkey’s products and services.



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